23rd Street Fire
5th Alarm Box 598
October 17, 1966
At 9:36 p.m. a fire was reported at the American Art Galleries, an art dealer located in a four-story brownstone at 7 East 22nd Street was transmitted for Box 598. By the time the first firefighters arrived, the intensity of the smoke and heat made it impossible to enter through the 22nd Street side of the building.
Firefighters attempted to approach the burning building around the corner through Wonder Drug, a store located at 6 East 23rd Street in a five-story commercial building on a 45-by-100-foot lot that abutted the burning art dealership. As part of a recent construction project, a common cellar under the two buildings was renovated, removing a load-bearing dividing wall that had supported the floor above. The removal of the wall allowed the art dealer to increase their storage space and move some of their supplies into a space that was now under the drugstore.
The building at 7 East 22nd Street had a two-story extension adjoining the rear of the building at 6 East 23rd Street. The cellar of the 22nd Street building extended about 35 feet under the drug store. The drugstore’s floor was supported by 3-by-14-inch wood beams. 3⁄4 inch wood planking atop these beams was covered with 5 inches of concrete finished with terrazzo. The fire underneath the store weakened the wooden beams, while the thickness of the floor prevented firefighters from feeling the extreme heat below.
A 15-by-35-foot section of the floor collapsed at 10:39 p.m., one hour and three minutes after the initial alarm was transmitted, causing ten firefighters to fall into the burning cellar. Two other firefighters on the first floor were killed in a flashover. In all, twelve firefighters were killed: two chiefs, two lieutenants, and eight firefighters. It took firefighters 14 hours to dig out the rubble and reach their dead comrades. The dead men left behind 12 widows and 32 children. The fire raged to a 5th Alarm.